Window wonderment amazes young, old alike

Posted: Monday, December 06, 2010

If, like the popular holiday song says, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go," then you must be going to the corner of Seward and Third Streets. Even Santa Claus stopped to peer inside on Gallery Walk Friday night to catch a glimpse of the newest creation by REACH facilities director Dan Elstad.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

"When I was a kid I lived in Seattle and Fredrick & Nelson had a big holiday window each year," Elstad said. "As a kid you never forget images like that, and now I am just a big kid when Christmas comes around."

Friday night's Gallery Walk was the unveiling for the seventh annual REACH window creation and on Saturday morning Elstad was back at work behind the glass.

"It is not removal time," Elstad said with a laugh. "The kids really like to peer inside. Smudge marks mean people are interested."

It wasn't just the little ones who had their faces pressed to the glass though, as the Christmas spirit was upon young and old alike. REACH executive director Richard Fagundes, who also grew up in Seattle, compares the scene to Macy's and The Bon Marche.

"It takes a lot of time," Elstad said. "I want to interest everyone and have something in there people will want to keep coming back to look at."

The REACH building was formally Behrends' Department Store and the windows featured mannequins with the newest fashions. Now REACH, which provides services to assist individuals and families experiencing developmental delays or disabilities, is Juneau's fourth largest employer, with programs that incorporate Infant Learning, Intake Resource and Respite, Support Services, Supported Emplyment, Assisted Living and the Canvas.

Elstad begins planning in the summer and always tries to include a Juneau theme. He gets ideas and help from kids, neighbors and his daughters Kirsten, 19, and Annie, 22, and their boyfriends Josh and Jon.

Said Elstad, "The first year they weren't into the Christmas spirit as much, but now they look forward to helping."

Annie remembers staying super late on school night in years past to decorate, "And it is always something new each year and so fun to help pick it out."

Kirsten said her favorite part is the finished product, "And now that my daughter is older she can enjoy it, too."

They both said their father was still a kid at heart

This year's creation is a Lego city and it is the first time Elstad has done three layers and levels of creation. Past productions have included tree houses, giraffes and roller coasters. Last year was a space theme. The final assembling this season began behind wrapping paper covering the window more than a week ago so revelers wouldn't see the present to be unwrapped at Gallery Walk.

Looking closely at the scene inside reveals a Juneau waterfront cityscape of Legos. A rough estimate of more than 10,000 Lego pieces, costing more than $2,000, feature an elaborate city with miniature figurines included. Looking closely reveals diners, carolers, tree decorators, bicyclists, a construction yard, cars, trucks and a park. There is an Air Station Sitka coast guard helicopter and rescue vehicles.

Elstad drove around Juneau to take photos of various spots and turned them into 3D photos of Swampy Acres, Rainbow Foods, KTOO, the Silverbow Bakery, City Hall, the State Capitol, the Governor's Mansion, the Baranof Hotel, the B.M. Behrends Building, El Sombrero Restaurant, the Wharf, Taku Fisheries and more.

Looking closer reveals some of Elstad's various friends and acquaintances in the windows.

Alaska Railroad train lines, with passengers inside, light up when buttons on the outer windows are pushed and move to carry Christmas trees in, around and under a Lego city built in Sitka by Elstad's brother Tyler Eddy.

Eddy, of S&S General Contractors, would send photos of what he had built as the two collaborated. Then the town was marked, disassembled, shipped over and reassembled.

In one corner, Santa climbs a ladder carrying Christmas lights, a reindeer head bobs in another, and overhead, under a Ward Air floatplane, a giant ball structure expands and contracts among hanging ornaments. One year the ball sucked up the floatplane. Now to keep it from spinning and tangling, a counter weight balance featuring the Beatles Yellow Submarine keeps it aligned.

A little computer brain box makes everything work and will soon be controlling holiday tunes as well.

"It does take a lot of time and energy," Elstad sighed. "It is trial and error. You learn a few tricks over the years."

Elstad leaves his window dressing up through February so the new Legislature can see it each year. One year his design included a gas pipeline.

"Everyone has a bit of Christmas spirit in them," Elstad said. "The big reward is seeing all the kids down there. One lady said her kids have grown up now but still want to come and see it. A good measure of success is when a parent is dragging a kid away kicking and screaming."

Added Elstad excitedly, "And look at this mirror! Doesn't it look like the street actually goes that direction? That is one of my favorite parts. It turned out really cool!"

Elstad is already planning for next season.

"Oh yeah, always," he said. "But not Legos ... not for a couple years now. That was a lot of work."

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at

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